Germany-based nova Institute has announced that it has developed a simple indicator that makes it possible to calculate the circularity of biomass and bio-based products. Called the Biomass Utilisation Factor, or BUF, it is a simple but elegant tool to measure to what extent biomass is kept in circulation.
As momentum for transitioning to a circular economy continues to grow, it has become clear that there is no one single path to achieve this goal. The complexity of the process requires a range of solutions, as the nova Institute points out: a stable framework to guide the transformation, novel technologies and innovation to close loops and access new feedstocks from what was formerly waste, clear priorities to identify the appropriate solution in a given case and ‘numbers and evidence that we are moving in the right direction’.
Biomass is a renewable resource, that basically takes CO2 from the atmosphere to grow At the end of life, it returns this CO2 to the atmosphere. Its use pattern is fundamentally a circular one. It is one of the three sources of ‘renewable carbon’ - the other two being CO2 utilisation and recycling. The goal of circularity is to increase the resource utilisation efficiency by keeping raw materials or biomass in use, thereby retaining the highest value possible
However, until now, no method was available to measure the extent to which this goal was being achieved; in other words, to assess to what extent biomass is kept in use.
To do so, indicators for the measurement of circularity are needed. Current tools for measuring circularity quantify the recycling rate, reusability/recyclability/recoverability by mass or the extent of social and economic related issues – and most have in common that their indicators are explicitly meant for quantification of cycles without biomass.
nova-Institute has now sought to develop a metric that makes it possible to measure to what extent biomass is indeed kept in circulation.
The indicator is based on what the researchers at this institute consider the two main factors impacting the circularity of biomass: repeated use of the original biomass, either for the same or a different purpose, which is called cascading use; and the efficiency with which the biomass is transformed from raw material into a product, which is known as production efficiency. Both terms are defined and described in the paper, and then combined into a single indicator for the circular bioeconomy: the Biomass Utilisation Factor.
The BUF provides a comprehensive approach to assessing biomass utilisation and is an elegant indicator to quantify the biomass flows in the circular bioeconomy. It is based on a mass balance approach and quantifies the extent to which (production efficiency) and in how many loops (cascading use) the biomass is utilised in a bio-based product value chain or in an entire sector.
Due to its simplicity, the BUF can be a strong tool for policy and scenario analyses. In particular, it may help to measure the impacts of variable parameters, like different splits in biomass allocation, increased production efficiency or increased recycling shares.
It can therefore not only serve as an indicator for the circular economy principle of keeping materials in use, but also act as an efficient tool for stakeholders and policymakers to identify options that maximise biomass utilisation and keep materials longer in use.
nova paper #16 “The Biomass Utilisation Factor (BUF)” is available for download here.